RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Altis Biosystems has a winner.

The Durham-based biotechnology business, which specializes in using human intestinal tissue cells to test novel drug therapies, has announced the recipient of its second Research Funding Initiative.

Michael Berger, Ph.D., senior project development engineer at Plakous Therapeutics, will collect a research grant of up to $10,000 to support a potential new drug filing for Protego-PD, an oral biotherapeutic medication to treat necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).

NEC is a devastating disease caused by inflammation and underdevelopment of the intestine in premature babies with birthweights less than three pounds. It kills about 30% of those affected and accounts for close to 20% of all neonatal intensive care unit expenditures, according to Altis. Plakous hopes Protego-PD can prevent NEC by accelerating the intestinal development of premature infants.

Altis created its awards program to speed up research into complex diseases by encouraging the use of its proprietary RepliGut Planar drug screening platform. The model helps scientists develop safer and more-effective drugs by taking advantage of the cellular makeup of the small intestine and colon.

The goal is to develop unique cellular models that can predict clinical outcomes and improve non-clinical drug development by reducing costs and decreasing the need for animal testing, the company said.

RepliGut replicates the intestinal epithelium – the thin layer of cells lining the small intestine and colon that are vital to good health. The epithelium is a critical barrier to disease-causing organisms and can be key to understanding the toxicity of compounds prior to in vivo (within a living organism) trials.

“We are excited to partner with Altis Biosystems through their RepliGut Research Funding Initiative,” Berger said. “Altis’ physiologically relevant, primary-cell derived intestinal GI epithelial model is the ideal in vitro evaluation method to increase our research efficiency, while reducing drug development time and costs.”

Plakous, a Winston-Salem-based startup, received a National Institutes of Health grant of more than $1.7 million two years ago to help develop its Protego-PD therapy. It also received $40,000 from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center earlier this year – as the winner of the Center’s NC Venture Challenge program – to support its research and commercialization efforts.

“We are delighted to support innovative North Carolina companies like Altis and Plakous, that have the potential to change the healthcare landscape,” said Nancy Johnston, executive director of NC Biotech’s Piedmont Triad Office. “It’s particularly rewarding to see them working together toward common goals.”

Altis was formed in 2017 to commercialize the RepliGut platform, which was developed in the Biomedical Engineering Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The company’s first Research Funding Initiative grant went to the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. The agency used RepliGut as a model for evaluating acute radiation syndrome (ARS), also known as radiation sickness, which is caused by irradiation of the body by a high dose of radiation over a short period of time.

There are no treatments approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for intestinal ARS, which can be life threating.

(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center